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Subclassing Objective-C classes in Swift and the perils of Initializers

, 9 Jun 2014
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As a way to learn Swift I decided to have a play with Sprite Kit. One of the first things I did was to create a subclass of SKSpriteNode. This has a very handy initializer:init(imageNamed name: string) (in Swift)-(instanceType)initWithImageNamed:(NString*)name (in Objective-C)I then derived from thi

As a way to learn Swift I decided to have a play with Sprite Kit. One of the first things I did was to create a subclass of SKSpriteNode. This has a very handy initializer: init(imageNamed name: string) (in Swift) -(instanceType)initWithImageNamed:(NString*)name (in Objective-C) I then derived from this resulting in:

class Ball : SKSpriteNode
{
    init()
    {
        super.init(imageNamed: "Ball")
    }
}

and added it to my scene as follows:

var ball = Ball()
ball.position = CGPoint(x:CGRectGetMidX(self.frame), y:CGRectGetMidY(self.frame))
self.addChild(ball)

Having successfully written similar code using SKSpriteKitNode directly:

var ball = SKSpriteNode(imageNamed: "Ball")
ball.position = CGPoint(x:CGRectGetMidX(self.frame), y:CGRectGetMidY(self.frame))
self.addChild(ball)

I was expecting it to work. However I received the following runtime error:

fatal error: use of unimplemented initializer 'init(texture: )' for class 'Ploing.Ball'

The odd thing was that it was complaining about the lack of initializer in the Ball class. Why would calling a base class initializer result in a call back to the derived class? I wasn't sure but to work around this I decided to add the missing initializer:

init(texture: SKTexture!)
{
    super.init(texture: texture)
}

Having duly done this I then got the next error:

fatal error: use of unimplemented initializer 'init(texture:color:size: )' for class 'Ploing.Ball'

Ok, same process add that one to the Ball class.

init(texture texture: SKTexture!, color color: UIColor!, size size: CGSize)
{
    super.init(texture: texture, color: color, size: size)
}

That time it worked but I was puzzled as to why. What seems to be happening is that the derived class is calling the non-designated initializer in the super class which is then calling the designated (or another non-designated one in between). However, when this initializer is called rather than calling the super class implementation it calls one in the derived class, whether it exists or not. In the case of Ball they didn't hence the error.

It turns out that in the middle of the the Initialization section of the The Swift Programming Language there is the following:

Initializer Inheritance and Overriding

Unlike subclasses in Objective-C, Swift subclasses do not not inherit their superclass initializers by default. Swift’s approach prevents a situation in which a simple initializer from a superclass is automatically inherited by a more specialized subclass and is used to create a new instance of the subclass that is not fully or correctly initialized.

If you want your custom subclass to present one or more of the same initializers as its superclass—perhaps to perform some customization during initialization—you can provide an overriding implementation of the same initializer within your custom subclass.

This explains it. Basically, in Swift, initialization methods work like virtual functions in fact super virtual functions. If a super class initializer is invoked and that in turns calls another initializer (designated or not) then it forwards the call to the derived class. The upshot of this seems to be that for any derived class in Swift it would need to re-implement all of the super classes initializers or at least any which may be invoked from the the other initializers.

Time for some experiments

I therefore set out to confirm this with a simple Swift example:

class Foo
{
    var one: Int;
    var two: Int;

    init(value value:Int)
    {
        self.init(value: value, AndAnother:7)
    }

    init(value value:Int, AndAnother value1:Int)
    {
        one = value;
        two = value1;
    }

    func print()
    {
        println("One:\(one), Two:\(two)")
    }
}

class Bar : Foo
{
    init()
    {
        super.init(value:1);
    }
}

let bar = Bar()
bar.print()

This wouldn't compile.

Designated initializer for 'Foo' cannot delegate (with 'self.init'); did you mean this to be a convenience initializer?

Must call a designated initializer of the superclass 'Foo'

Whereas in Objective-C the designated initializer is effectively advisory, in Swift it's enforced. If a initializer isn't marked with the convenience keyword then it seems (at least during compilation) all initializers are treated as being the designated initializor and not at the same time. In this case the compilation failed as there was no designated initializer for Bar.init to call and as Foo.init(value value:Int) wasn't marked as a connivence initializer it was assumed to the designated one and is thus forbidden from calling another initializer in its own class; somewhat paradoxically.

These two rules prevent issues that occur with Objective-C's advisory initializer. All but the designated initializer must be prefixed with the convenience keyword. Secondly this is the only initializer permitted to call the super class initializer meaning all the the convenience initializers can only (cross) call other convenience or the designated initializer for their class. Following these rules gives a working example:

class Foo
{
    var one: Int;
    var two: Int;

    convenience init(value value:Int)
    {
        self.init(value: value, AndAnother:7)
    }

    init(value value:Int, AndAnother value1:Int)
    {
        one = value;
        two = value1;
    }

    func print()
    {
        println("One:\(one), Two:\(two)")
    }
}

class Bar : Foo
{
    init()
    {
        super.init(value: 7, AndAnother: 8)
    }
}

let bar = Bar()
bar.print()

Which gives the results:

One:7, Two:8

It also completely bypasses the convenience method of the superclass rendering it useless for calling from a derived class.

As for explaining the original problem this doesn't help either as the new rules prevent the problem. Herein lies the clue though. It suggests the problem is not with Swift classes subclassing other Swift classes but when a Swift class subclasses an Objective-C class.

Subclassing Objective-C from Swift

Time for another experiment but this time using a base class written in Objective-C:

Base.h

@interface Base : NSObject

-(id)initWithValue:(NSInteger) value;
-(id)initWithValue:(NSInteger) value AndAnother:(NSInteger) value1;
-(void)print;

@end

Base.m

#import "Base.h"

@interface Base ()
@property NSInteger one;
@property NSInteger two;
@end

@implementation Base

-(id)initWithValue:(NSInteger) value
{
    return [self initWithValue:value AndAnother:2];
}

-(id)initWithValue:(NSInteger) value AndAnother:(NSInteger) value1
{
    if ([super init])
    {
        self.one = value;
        self.two = value1;
    }
    
    return self;
}

-(void)print
{
    NSLog(@"One:%d, Two:%d", (int)_one, (int)_two);
}

@end

main.swift

class Baz : Base
{
    init()
    {
        super.init(value: 7)
    }

    init(value value:Int, AndAnother value1:Int)
    {
        super.init(value: value, andAnother: value1);
    }
}

var baz = Baz()
baz.print()

Looking at Base it's obvious that the desginated initializer is initWithValue:(int)value AndAnother:(int)value1 whereas Baz is calling a 'convenience' initializer. This compiles happily but when run gives the following error:

fatal error: use of unimplemented initializer 'init(value:andAnother: )' for class 'Test.Baz'

This is the same type of error as in the original SKSpriteNote sample. Here, Baz's initializer is successfully invoking the Base.initWihValue:(int) value but when it invokes Base's designated initializer this is when the super virtual functionality of the initializers comes into play and an attempt is made to call this non-existent method on Baz. This is easily fixed by adding that method such as it calls the super class method as in:

class Baz : Base
{
    init()
    {
        super.init(value: 7)
    }

    init(value value:Int, AndAnother value1:Int)
    {
        super.init(value: value, andAnother: value1);
    }
}

Giving the result:

2014-06-07 17:40:18.632 Test[47394:303] One:7, Two:2

Alternatively and staying true to the Swift way the parameterless intializer which is obviously a convenience initializer should be marked as such. This then causes a compilation failure as this is now forbidden from calling the super class initialzer and instead must make a cross call to the designated initializer giving the following code:

class Baz : Base
{
    convenience init()
    {
        self.init(value: 7, AndAnother: 8)
    }

    init(value value:Int, AndAnother value1:Int)
    {
        super.init(value: value, andAnother: value1);
    }
}

Which gives the result:

2014-06-07 17:40:46.345 Test[47407:303] One:7, Two:8

This differs from the previous version as the connivence initializer now calls the designated one within Baz meaning the -(id)initWithValue:(NSInteger) value is never called which is why the second value is nolonger 2.

Conclusion

Whilst this explains the behaviour I was seeing when subclassing SKSpriteNode and by providing a mirror of its initializers without marking any as convenience it solves the problem of using the convenient init(imageNamed name: string) method it doesn't do so particularly elegantly nor in a fully Swift style; as it leaves the class with a set of initializers none of which are marked convenience.

A designated initializer could be specified by marking all but the init(texture texture: SKTexture!, color color: UIColor!, size size: CGSize) method as convenience and having them cross call this one. However this would prevent the direct calling of init(imageNamed name: string) which is a lot more convenient than the other methods.

Ironically, whilst Swift formalizes the designated initializer concept and it looks like it will work well for pure Swift code it can be somewhat inconvenient when subclassing Objective-C classes.

P.S. For those of us who have trouble spelling the keyword convenience is far from convenient. A keywoard to mark the designated initializer may well have been more convenient and probably easier to spell!

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

PeteBarber
Team Leader
United Kingdom United Kingdom
My day job is mostly working in C++ with a bit of C#. I write a fair amount of command line based tools and really wish they could have a GUI front-end to them hence why I spend my spare time working with WPF.
 
I started a blog few years back but didn't do a lot with it. I've started describing some of the interesting programming things I come across on it. Please take a look.

Comments and Discussions

 
Questionsomewhat easier workaround PinmemberMember 109234203-Jul-14 16:26 
QuestionThank You! Pinmemberelixhur16-Jun-14 18:04 
QuestionAgain "Apple knows better"??? PinmemberThornik10-Jun-14 6:44 

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